Ralph Fiennes clearly digs Rudolph Nureyev; for his third film as director, he’s attempted to capture the story of one of the world’s greatest dancers, which some success. Fiennes’ previous efforts (Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman) were a couple of real duffers, but with a leading man who certainly looks the part in Oleg Ivenko, The White Crow is more than passable as history.
The title refers to the Russian notion of otherness, of an individual who is separate from the pack; a black sheep in our parlance. Flashing back and forward to key moments in Nureyev’s life as he ponders defecting during a tour to Paris, Fiennes’ attempts to get under the waxen skin of the individual are fairly skin-deep; Nureyev rages at a toy-shop owner whose range of toy trains bore him, or glowers as his patient tutor (Fiennes) refuses to acknowledge his genius.
But things pick up rapidly in the final stretch when Nureyev faces a choice to defect to the West or return to his family in Russia; the facts are compelling in these scenes, and his choice is presented with some gravity. Anyone with a feeling for dance, and Nureyev in particular will be interested in these moments, and Fiennes doesn’t short-change us with the ballet scenes, which looks authentic and feel right.
But much of the presentation is dull, the photography of Russia and Paris is so grim and deliberately out of focus that it’s hard to watch, and David Hare’s script is dry and lacks the requisite insight. Yet a bit like the Queen biopic, a movie about this potent subject only needs to be halfway good to be watchable, and the legend of Nureyev just about carries the film.